GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Minnesota-based sand artist is bringing her unusual talent to Grand Rapids for ArtPrize 2023.
Coua Lee, who has been doing sand art for 12 years, estimated there are fewer than 100 sand artists worldwide.
“Sand art, it’s such a rare art,” she said. “I have never met another sand artist.”
She explained that sand art is created atop the glass surface of a lightbox. It’s a performance art, carefully choreographed to music.
“Sand art is meant to be performed live as a community,” Lee said.
Lee told News 8 that at its core, sand art is “storytelling” — a kind of narrative performance that draws viewers in.
“You just can’t help but engage with the work,” Lee explained. “When you watch sand art, you’ll see very quickly how fast it moves, how fast the sand is always shifting. … It’s kind of like watching a story reveal itself.”
There is no lasting final product: When the performance is over, the piece is erased, too.
“I think that erasing it, starting over says a lot about our stories are always changing, always shifting. It’s never settled,” Lee said. “We have the freedom to change things.”
For ArtPrize, Lee will perform “Resilient Nation” live at Fountain Street Church Sept. 15 and 16 every hour from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. During the remainder of ArtPrize, a recorded video of the 14-minute performance will play.
Coua Lee provided this excerpt of “Resilient Nation.” She will perform the piece in its entirety for ArtPrize.
“People need to see it live to really get to experience it,” Lee said.
She told News 8 “Resilient Nation” will use art to help process what happened during COVID-19.
“I feel like we didn’t have enough art during COVID or about COVID. … I think this is a good opportunity for me to re-process things that happened in my city, things that happened with humanity in general,” explained Lee, who is from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.
“Resilient Nation” will feature images of the George Floyd protests, the loss of loved ones and the efforts of health care workers. But the final note, Lee said, will be one of hope.
“It does transition from a very dark place to realizing — to a place where people start to realize that this isn’t going to last forever and that we can actually do this if we do it together,” she said. “There is hope even in dark places. … We can definitely find hope when we come together.”
Lee told News 8 her goal is to create storytellers. She hopes that when people watch her tell stories with sand art, they’ll be inspired to tell their own stories, too.
“When we do tell stories, we go through a process of identity-making, understanding ourselves and our role in this world,” Lee said. “And it can be a very beautiful process.”